by CHRISTINE SARKES SASSEVILLE
The Guthrie Theater and The Acting Company’s staging and interpretation of William Shakespeare’s whimsical romantic comedy, As You Like It, is wonderfully inventive, superbly acted and suprisingly accessible to modern audiences. Everything from the mystical set design, roaring twenties costume vibe, musical interludes and the modern cadence of the monologues cleverly evokes Shakespeare’s motifs of magical romantic love, mistaken identities, courtly intrigue and happy endings. I found the production delightfully executed and very entertaining and count it among my favorite stagings of a Shakespeare play.
Directed by Dan Rothenberg, this production of As You Like It features interactions between the natural and the man-made worlds and includes actors who are graduates of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program, A Guthrie Experience for Actors in Training and alumni of The Acting Company including Megan Bartle (Celia), Buddy Haardt (Oliver), Kelsey Landon (Phoebe), Michael McDonald (Silvius/Le Beau), Noah Putterman (Amiens/William), Elizabeth Stahlmann(Rosalind), and Jasmine Bracey (Audrey). Returning to the Guthrie with The Acting Company are Ray Chapman (Duke Frederick/Sir Archibald Martext), Joseph Midyett (Orlando) and Chris Thorn (Jaques). The cast is rounded out by Christopher Michael McFarland (Touchstone), Joseph Tisa (Adam/Corin) and Yaegel T. Welch (Duke Senior/Charles the Wrestler).
The play is set in a ducal court in France, but most of the action takes place in the Forest of Arden. Duke Frederick has usurped the Duchy and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior. The Duke’s daughter Rosalind is allowed to remain at court because she is the closest friend and cousin of Frederick’s daughter, Celia. Orlando, a young nobleman who has fallen in love at first sight with Rosalind, is forced to flee his home after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Rosalind also falls in love at first sight with Orlando, introducing the play’s contrast between devoted (feminine) and superficial (masculine) love. Frederick becomes angry and banishes Rosalind from court. Celia and Rosalind decide to flee togetherto the forest accompanied by the jester Touchstone, with Rosalind disguised as a young man, Ganymede, and Celia disguised “his” sister, Aliena. They arrive in the forest, where the exiled Duke now lives with a troupe of supporters, including the philosopher Jaques, played by Chris Thorn with a convincing mix of gravitas and wit. Jacques delivers Shakespeare’s most famous monologues, which begins:
“All the world’s a stage And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…”
The forest scenes are the heart of the play, with the love stories between characters played out in full farce: family ties are repaired and love triangles are resolved. Deserving special mention in executing a magically imagined forest set is the creative team of Michael Chybowski (Lighting Design), Felix Ivanoff (Fight Direction), Michael Kiley (Music and Sound Design),Sarah Sanford (Choreography), Matt Saunders (Scenic Design), Terese Wadden (Costume Design) and Andrew Wade (Voice and Speech Consultant). They fully executed Director Dan Rothenberg’s vision of a Maurice Sendak-like magical escape from court life. Rothenberg said of his interpretation: “Rosalind and her boyfriend Orlando’s flight of fancy into exile allows them to visit their wild side. They discover that the Forest of Arden is rendered by a child: messy, whimsical, full of animals personified and humans that are beastly, trees that have eyes and plants that uproot themselves. I envision a royal court that sits on the edge of the forest, so close that they can hear the rumpus the animals create. The court won’t be entirely regal, with wrestlers that resemble prehistoric animals, haunting adults and wily jesters.”
Of the many superb acting performances, my favorites were Michael McDonald, playing both Silvius and Le Beau, Chris Thorn as Jaques and the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre B.F.A.’s Kelsey Landon as Phoebe. In particular, Michael McDonald’s mincing Le Beau and surfer-dude-lover Silvius were scene-stealers. Noah Putterman also deserves mention for his lovely and poignant tenor falsetto musical interludes that punctuated plot points and scene changes.
The company is also joined on tour by Devin Brain (Staff Repertory Director), Gina Odierno (Production Stage Manager) and Brandon Curtis (Assistant Stage Manager).
As You Like It, presented by The Guthrie Theater and The Acting Company, 818 South 2nd Street, Mpls., 55415. Through February 3, 2013 in the Dowling Studio. Single tickets for the Guthrie’s production start at $24 and are on sale through the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224, toll-free 877.44.STAGE, 612.225.6244 (Group Sales) and online at www.guthrietheater.org. For a complete tour itinerary, visit www.theactingcompany.org.